August 11, 2016 

BY JESSE JACKSON 

Recently, a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rebuked the North Carolina legislature for acting with “discriminatory intent” in passing restrictions on the right to vote that “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” The decision came as we approach the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on August 6. Reinforced by similar rulings in the appellate court in Texas and a district court in Wisconsin, the decision is a victory for our democracy and our Constitution.

 

The voting impediments were passed by North Carolina in 2013 in the wake of the Supreme decision in Shelby v. Holder which struck down the central provision of the Voting Rights Act: the requirement that areas with a history of discrimination gain prior approval from the Justice Department before changing voting regulations. Chief Justice John Roberts, the activist Republican judge, decided to rewrite the law that was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, arguing that since we now live in a “post-racial society,” requiring prior approval for voting law changes was no longer justified. The flood of legislation that followed — all erecting barriers to make voting harder for African-Americans in particular — proved the chief justice’s fantasy was a lie.

 

In North Carolina, the legislature acted immediately after the Supreme Court decision came down. Its motivation, the Fourth Circuit panel found, was clear. African-American turnout had surged in 2008 and 2012 (with Barack Obama at the head of the Democratic ticket), nearing parity with the turnout of white voters for the first time. Obama had taken the state in 2008 and lost it closely in 2012. But in 2010, conservative Republicans had taken control of the legislature and the statehouse.

 

The new majority acted aggressively to fend off the threat posed by growing African-American turnout. As Judge Diana Motz, writing for the unanimous panel, summarized, the legislators “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African-Americans.”

 

The three-judge panel in Richmond, Virginia, unanimously concluded that the law was racially discriminatory, overturning a requirement that voters show photo identification to vote and restoring same-day voter registration, a week of early voting, pre-registration for teenagers, and out-of-precinct voting.

 

As Ari Berman, the voting rights expert who reports for The Nation magazine noted, the decision comes after North Carolina’s presidential primary in March provided a troubling indication of what might be expected in the general election — students waiting in three-hour lines, foreign-born U.S. citizens asked to spell their names to poll workers for no reason, and elderly voters born during Jim Crow turned away from the polls for not meeting the new ID requirements.

 

“The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals exposed for the world to see the racist intent of the extremist element of our government in North Carolina,” exulted the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, on a press call Friday afternoon. “The ruling is a people’s victory, and it is a victory that sends a message to the nation.”

 

Dr. Martin Luther King led the movement that culminated in the Voting Rights Act over a half-century ago. He understood that voting was the foundational right of citizenship. To strip someone of the right to vote is to strip them of their place in a self-governing community. In a 1957 speech entitled “Give Us the Ballot,” King argued “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”

 

King understood that discriminatory election laws not only hurt minorities or the working poor, they also undermined the legitimacy of our elections and thus of our government.

 

The North Carolina decision and similar decisions in Texas and Wisconsin offer the hope that the courts will act to frustrate at least the most blatant versions of new Jim Crow laws. Those decisions will remove barriers for literally millions of voters.

 

But the courts can only reaffirm the right to vote. That right is not effective if it is not used. The courts have lowered the barriers in North Carolina and other states. Now the citizens must mobilize and vote in large numbers to exercise the power that they have.

Category: Opinion

August 04, 2016 

By Julianne Malveaux 

NNPA News Wire Columnist 

 

The North Carolina NAACP President, Rev. William Barber, tore it up and then threw down in a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention on July 28th.  He called on those assembled to be a “moral defibrillator of our time,” to shock our nation with the power of love and morality. Rev. Barber did not use the word “endorse,” but urged delegates to “embrace” Clinton, and his rousing rhetoric was challenging and inspirational

 

Rev. Barber is a committed and tenacious activist.  He founded the “Forward Together Moral Movement”, and has organized “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina.  For the past three years, Moral Monday activists have gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, and used protest and civil disobedience to shine light on the many ways North Carolina has attempted to erode voting rights, and move the state backwards on economic justice issues.  

 

“When I hear Hillary’s voice and positions,” Barber said, “I hear and I know she is working to embrace our deepest moral values, and we should embrace her,” he said. “She nor any person can do it alone. The watchword of this democracy is ‘we.’” 

 

What are we, the people going to do in the aftermath of the political conventions?  Some have said they will stay home, but watching the difference between the gathering of Democrats and that of Republicans should remind us that staying home should not be an option.  Stay home, and leave our choice of leadership to others?  Stay home and co-sign the hateful comments Mr. Trump made during his convention?  Rev. Barber has called the democratic watchword “we,” and Hillary Clinton talked about Democratic inclusiveness, which contrasts with that we observed with Republicans.  What are “we” going to do?

 

President Barack Obama set Secretary Clinton up nicely with his Wednesday evening speech, singing her praises and passing the baton.  She caught the baton handily, offering a speech that exceeded my every expectation.  The speech was full of grit and grace, humor and humility, respect and reaching out to the Bernie folks.  Not only could I hear the glass ceiling shattering, but also I hoped that the world could see this woman as Commander-in-Chief.

 

Rev. Barber reminds us, though, that we are all part of the “we the people.”  He reminds us that we are only committed to democracy when we are actively involved in it. It’s not just about a convention, or a vote.  It is about an imperative to transform a system that is flawed.  Rev. Barber talked about the “Fight for Fifteen,” the Black Lives Matter movement, and the missing morality in our nation now.  Even as he urged us to embrace Hillary, he also urged us to embrace justice.

 

President Obama reminds us that democracy can be frustrating and messy.  Rev. Barber reminded us that it can also be moral and loving, if we make the collective decision to rally around key principles and to engage in the process of compromise. We also have to remember that democracy is practiced with more frequency than every four years.

 

Voting is not the most we can do. It is the least we can do.  Real democracy exists when people like Rev. William Barber gather people weekly to fight for voting rights, when he speaks up with regularity on the need for political and economic transformation.  We exhibit our commitment to democracy when we hold our leaders accountable, when we pressure them to do the right thing, when we remind them of their campaign promises.

 

Those Bernie Sanders supporters who choose to remain engaged in the political process have the responsibility to continue to push their progressive agenda at the national, state, and local levels.  Indeed, they honor their movement and their struggle by continuing to feel a burning desire for social and economic justice. If Sanders’ supporters decide to pick up their marbles and go home, because their candidate did not win, it suggests that they are committed to personality, not democracy.

 

Our system is far from perfect, but it’s the system we have. We can change it if we are committed to democracy. Or, we can accept imperfections, if we eschew activism.

 

Thank you, Hillary Clinton for reminding us of your service.  Thank you, Rev. Barber for reminding us that Secretary Clinton won’t be able to achieve much, unless we work with her.  If you can listen to William Barber and fail to get fired up, you have truly embraced apathy.  Barber is a role model, because of his fierce commitment to democracy.

 

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race Obama and Public Policy” is available via amazon.com for more information juliannemalveaux.com. 

Category: Opinion

July 28, 2016 

By BENJAMIN F. CHAVIS, JR 

There is an old adage that posits “The more things appear to change, the more they stay the same.”  Once again millions of Americans are engulfed in what has become a reluctant national debate and dialogue concerning race and the urgency to reform the nation’s criminal justice system. Finding and identifying transformative remedies and solutions are long overdue.

 

In the wake of the most recent fatal tragedies in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge, there are renewed fervent calls for improving relations between police officers and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.  I believe these calls are being made in earnest seeking conclusive change.

 

However, the underlying systemic reasons why these and other tragedies continue to happen are somehow routinely avoided. There is a pervasive fear to speak and articulate the truth about race and the institutionalized devolving impact of racism on all levels of the criminal justice system.

 

To put it bluntly, there is too much intellectual dishonesty concerning the historical and contemporary role of race in America.  In particular we need more intellectual honesty about why and how real reform of the criminal justice system should be achieved. 

 

We need remedies that actually work to enable and to empower people to improve their quality of life without the debilitating and too often death-rendering consequences of a broken criminal justice system.  Mass incarceration, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial inequality, racial profiling, and police brutality are all interrelated and interconnected in the counterproductive web of the system named criminal justice. 

 

It is a system that lacks honesty, truth and integrity. Yet, my purpose here is to go beyond merely joining the public chorus that bemoans the prolonged contradictions of this failed social system.  I know that there are some preventative programs and initiatives that are producing positive results about which more people should be made aware.

 

Criminal justice reform requires the coordinated and combined efforts and support of principled leaders in the private sector along with government officials, community organizations, and family members who are impacted.  We all also should acknowledge that poverty and economic insecurity feeds the pipeline to the jails and prisons in the United States.

 

Acquiring a good education and training that provides everyone a means of generating a sustainable income is also a key factor if reform of our system of justice is to be productive.  Last year ironically in Baton Rouge, I was pleased to be on a panel about criminal justice reform at the 57th national convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We discussed the need for re-entry programs for the thousands of ex-offenders who are returning to our communities across the nation.

 

One such program I want to highlight, Project JumpStart in Baltimore, MD, is an effective and efficient model to reforming an important aspect of the criminal justice system: offender re-entry workforce development.  The construction trades are a growing skilled-workers industry in most urban areas where there are high-paying job opportunities.

 

JumpStart is Baltimore’s premier construction training program.  It is a 14-week skills training program in plumbing, carpentry and the electrical trade.  Trainees also received financial literacy coaching as well as practical courses in mathematics as it is related to the construction industry.  Most importantly more than 70 percent of the JumpStart trainees actually go on to attain apprenticeships, licenses, and high-wage jobs.

 

Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president at Koch Industries, was on the SCLC panel with me in Baton Rouge.  We agreed that bipartisan support of results-oriented criminal justice reform programs is essential. I was also pleased recently to review Mark’s appraisal of Project JumpStart. 

 

Holden emphasized, “Project JumpStart allows ex-offenders to rebuild their lives, providing opportunity and hope. We all have a moral obligation to stop punishing people for their past actions once they have paid their debt to society. We need to build and support a culture of opportunity so that the ex-offender leads a productive and purposeful life – Project

 

JumpStart is essential to that process.”

 

Maryland, like many of other states, disproportionately incarcerates African Americans. What will happened to our brothers and sisters once they complete their prison sentences?  I support President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative as one of a series of programs targeted to keep our young people from entering prison.  But we also have to be concerned about the millions of people who are now hopelessly languishing in America’s prisons and jails.

 

When I was unjustly imprisoned in my home state of North Carolina during most of the 1970’s as a member of the Wilmington Ten, I witnessed firsthand how thousands of young, gifted and talented prison inmates were given no rehabilitative chance to re-enter society with an opportunity to become productive and successful in their respective life journeys.

 

To that end there should be more programs like JumpStart in every city and state.  We need principled national, state and local leadership on all the key reform issues, in particular on overcriminalization, re-entry training, prosecutorial accountability, community policing, and restorative equal justice. Urgently today across America we need more intellectual honesty about race and criminal justice reform.

Category: Opinion

July 21, 2016 

By Julianne Malveaux 

NNPA News Wire Columnist 

 

After Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota there was Dallas, Texas. After rogue cops unceremoniously killed two Black men, a deranged shooter killed five police officers. The shooter, identified as Micah Johnson, reportedly said that he wanted to kill White police officers. Too many commentators referred to his middle initial “X.’ in an effort to be more racially provocative. Too many, like the unrepentant racist and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, used the shooter’s actions to excoriate the Black Lives Matter Movement.

 

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not racist, because it simply reflects our nation’s history. From our founding until today, there have been too many opportunities to legalize the misguided notion that Black lives do not matter. The fact that our Constitution reduces enslaved African Americans into a fraction of a person suggests that Black lives did not matter, at our nation’s founding, as much as White lives did. The differences in the terms and conditions of indentured servitude for Whites and enslavement for Afrodescendents further cemented the notion that black lives did not matter as much as white lives did. The persistence of enslavement, and the contradictions that came from the practice of “breeding” (i.e., treating Black people as animals to increase “stock”) heightened contradictions, because the slave owners were selling their children and siblings. What did they think of themselves, if they felt they had to couple with people they found “subhuman?”

 

Has former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ever read a history book? Does he understand that if revenge were ever a motive in Black/White interactions it would have been all over but the shouting between 1865 and 1876? Formerly enslaved people were hopeful about emancipation, but caught between hope and despair when Black Codes were imposed, when people were lynched for simply asserting the right to walk on the sidewalk, when soldiers were lynched, in uniform, because they did not defer to fellow citizens. Even though Constitutional amendments were passed to abolish enslavement, rigid Southern attitudes imposed a quasi-enslavement that persisted until the civil rights movement, and White supremacist attitudes that persist until today.

 

When our Constitution was written, John Adams lamented that the issue of enslavement was a conundrum that his generation was imposing on subsequent generations. When the 13th Amendment was passed, there was no playbook to detail how our nation would transcend enslavement. We have never taken the time or energy to condemn racist attitudes, assuming they would simply go away. They have not. And millions of African Americans have righteous resentment about the many micro-aggressions (not to mention murders) that our community experiences. The micro-aggressions of White skin privilege are minor compared to the macro aggressions of a rogue police officer. Have any of these people ever read a history book? Do they even understand that if revenge were a motive, it might have been extracted in 1866, not today?

 

The process for ending enslavement was imperfect. Too many Southerners cleaved to the notion that people of African descent were inferior, and then they passed laws to enforce unequal status. Jim Crow laws and Black Codes, prohibitions against property ownership and voting, unequal access to education, not to mention the constant nightriders, the granddaddies of contemporary rogue police forces, all existed to enforce subjugation and fear.

 

To be sure, we have come a long way since 1865 and since 1876. But the fact that, in contemporary culture, you still have White people who will wrap themselves up in a Confederate flag suggests we have not come quite as far as we must. People are talking about an “honest conversation” about race now, but the conversation should have taken place more than a century ago. Now, there is far too much denial for an “honest conversation”, and I despair that conversation is grossly insufficient if it is not coupled with action.

 

Through halting action and corrupt compromise, the Recon­struction of the United States never happened. We are sowing the bitter fruit of a broken Reconstruction today, with too many racial attitudes ossified. Black Lives Matter is not a racist phrase. It is the manifestation of the conversation that should have taken place after the passage of the 13th Amendment.

 

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race Obama and Public Policy” is available via amazon.com for more information juliannemalveaux.com.

Category: Opinion

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